The mother of a young Gaelic footballer who died of an asthma attack hopes the creation of a first responder service will be a lasting legacy for her son.
Known for his infectious smile and laughter, James Grant was just 17 when he took ill and died at his home in Atticall near Kilkeel in Co Down just days before Christmas 2019.
The minor and under-20 player with Atticall GAC was a talented footballer with a promising career ahead of him.
His mother Helene told Belfast Live: “James suffered with asthma all his life but it was always very controlled with no major problems.
“He never let it stop him from doing anything. He was so active and full of life – an absolute star of a child.
“Unfortunately on December 19, 2019, James phoned me in the early stages of a severe attack.
“None of us were at home at the time, as it was just a few days before Christmas. I told James I would phone for an ambulance and call him straight back but sadly he never answered the phone after that.
“I was frantically making calls to the ambulance service in the middle of a shopping centre in Newry, not knowing what to do.
“As a mother you will go to the ends of the earth to preserve and defend your children but I could nothing and was totally dependent on the ambulance service.
“I phoned a neighbour and family member to go to the house but things weren’t good and when the ambulance arrived, it was too late as James had passed away. We were just left in complete and utter grief.”
Just a week before James, who was a pupil at St Mark’s High School in Warrenpoint, had joined his family on a trip to Donegal along with his father John and siblings Emma, Aaron and Michael, to celebrate Helene’s 50th birthday.
“We took a house in Rathmullan and had the most amazing family weekend. I’m so grateful to God for that weekend when we were altogether enjoying lovely meals and beautiful walks on the beach,” Helene recalls.
“The one thing that stands out in my mind was when we having great fun and craic, James came over, put his arms around me and said: ‘Mummy I just love you’. I hold that memory dear because little did we know that within a week, James wouldn’t be with us.”
After his funeral, Helene felt it would be an injustice to James if she didn’t pursue what happened that night with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.
A subsequent review found their response did not reflect the high standards that NIAS aim to deliver on a daily basis and a number of areas for improvement were identified.
Helene added: “We are grateful to NIAS for their complete openness and transparency throughout the whole review as it wasn’t easy for them dealing with a family plunged into grief.”
The Grant family have since spearheaded the establishment of Mourne Community First Responders (MCFR) in memory of the much loved son and brother.
The aim of the group, which is in the early stages of development, is to reach a potentially life-threatening emergency in the vital first few minutes prior to the arrival of an ambulance.
Seven local volunteers will be trained to provide CPR and use a defibrillator if required, and are alerted in addition to an Ambulance.
The team will complement and work in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to the community of Mourne.
Helene said: “I have great faith in this service and I know that James would be 100% behind it.”
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